Editorial — Consider the homeless

Glenn Rutherford
Glenn Rutherford

Halloween is lurking just around the corner and in the rush of another wave of falling leaves, we’ll all be thinking about baking turkeys and gathering friends and families for Thanksgiving.

Despite the seeming rapidity of time’s flight, another year has nearly run its course, though our minds say it was just days ago that we were putting away the Christmas decorations.

It is also that time of year when many of us begin to consider end-of-the-year giving, after we’ve made our pledge to the Catholic Services Appeal of course. The generosity of the people who make up the Archdiocese of Louisville is well established but certainly not taken for granted. And given the continuing community need, those charities who have been graced with our beneficence in the past are, by necessity, seeking our help again.

One thing is for certain, though. Gifts to those charities that serve the homeless — including homeless veterans — have not only been well received they have been well used.

The battle against homelessness, waged by several local agencies including the St.  John Center for homeless men, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, WellSpring and others, have helped to make a major dent in the city’s homeless population.

Theirs is a success story, and it’s an important one in a community such as ours where, according to a Brookings Institute study, one in seven people live in what is called “concentrated poverty.” That means they earn 150 percent less than the federal poverty level.

Maria Price, executive director of the St. John Center on Liberty St., is glad to point to the declining numbers of homeless veterans, and she notes that overall numbers of the homeless are declining. Yet certain demographics — men who suddenly became unemployed, others who have faced personal crisis including addictions — are rising.

“So while there is no question that while we’ve shown success, there still is a pressing need,” she said.

That need becomes more apparent, Price added, when the so-called “skinny budget” was released by government officials in Washington, D.C. last February. It was clear among its numbers that  “all kinds of social services were on the chopping block.”

For an agency such as St. John Center, which appears ready to end this year $93,000 in the red, that’s bad news indeed.

But let’s consider the successes.

For many years 30 percent of the clients served by the center were homeless veterans. But in the past fiscal year, that number has been reduced to just 15 percent, Price said. “That’s beautiful, and I just love knowing that we’ve been part of that success.”

As have others, such as those agencies mentioned above. Yet the St. John Center, Phoenix Health Center, WellSpring, and the Society of St. Vincent dePaul, as well as others, all depend upon funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s what has agency leaders such as Price concerned.

At St. John Center, the Veterans’ Administration has representatives on site four of the seven days a week the center is open.

“They provide supportive housing, putting veterans into their programs and we try to stretch what they offer by putting into our programs veterans that don’t qualify for VA help,” she explained. They include veterans who have been dishonorably discharged or have other issues with the VA.

The center’s overall budget this year is $1.4 million, and despite the fears that some federal funding might be in jeopardy, the center board recently decided to expand both the physical building and center services.

“We’re bursting at the seams here,” Price said. “We have employees who are sharing office space, and we feel that we have little choice but to expand.” So they are adding on to the rear of the building and right now have just half of the funds they need to do it.

On July 1, the center hired Keesha Gardner to be their full-time director of employment services and she’s already had an impact. With Gardner’s guidance, in one quarter of this year the center placed 23 men in jobs through a dozen different employers. In that same quarter the center saw 57 men move into permanent housing.

“We want to continue doing what we do best,” Price explained, “and that’s helping the homeless increase their self-sufficiency and move into permanent housing. We need to provide more housing case management and continue the success of our employment services.”

The center also wants to have the ability to bring in other agencies “that have the resources our clients need,” she said.

So the bottom line to all this is when you are considering end-of-the-year donations, remember the St. John Center and the other local agencies that serve the homeless. “We love what we’re doing,” Price said. “We just want to do more of it.”

Such gifts, of course, are in keeping with the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus notes that “in as much as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” We must remember that admonition as the months of 2017 dwindle away.


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